Tuesday, July 17, 2012

They are human before anything else


Citizenship is often taken for granted as an intrinsic right for human beings, but we mustn’t forget the role of geopolitics in determining not only people’s citizenship but also their status when they are forced into exile from their homelands. The Sudanese who have been staging a hunger strike for 40 days now in Lebanon are not protesting for citizenship rights: They are simply calling on the United Nations to grant them official refugee status so that they could be resettled in other countries. The only answer that the UNHCR has given them so far is silence.

The strikers consist of men, women, and children, many of whom in bad health. That many of them are without refugee status makes their presence in Lebanon illegal, since Lebanon has not ratified the 1950 UN Refugee Convention. This means that they cannot be granted asylum and resettled in other nations. Their only option is official UNHCR recognition.

It’s understandable that the UNHCR is dealing with large numbers of refugees in Lebanon already, and that it needs time to process their cases. But the Sudanese who are now striking have been in this state of no recognition for years already--if the UNHCR does decide to proceed with their cases today, normal processing procedures might take at least two years. Who would guarantee the security of this community during this time?

People across the globe are actively fighting government corruption and demanding responsiveness from their rulers. Now we are standing in front of a global organization called UNHCR to also demand responsiveness and to pose the question: In this age of globalization, when human rights are supposed to be universal, have human rights become the privilege of the elites?

These strikers need their rights too; they are human before anything else.

I, the undersigned, along with my fellow Lebanese activists, ask Amnesty International and the ICTJ to follow up the case of the Sudanese refugees in Lebanon. We call on UNHCR to transfer these refugees to resettlement countries as soon as possible; determine their refugee status immediately; and review all currently closed files relating to those refugees so that they can be granted expedited official refugee recognition.

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Jad Shahrour - Lebanon, Beirut
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